While Alan Bennett, never officially names the fictional queen in The Uncommon Reader, most readers presume it is the House of Windsor’s current ruling monarch.
In life, as in Bennett’s novella, the queen’s day is filled with official duties and functions. The British royal family Web site has even created a fact sheet on "The Queen's Working Day."
According to the site, she begins her day at 8 a.m. with breakfast and then reads the newspapers. The Queen’s Royal Piper plays outside her window. After that, she spends the morning, receiving ambassadors, high commissioners, government ministers, as well as military and church leaders. She might also be involved in award or honors ceremonies known as investitures, as well as knighting some people.
In the afternoon, she begins looking at her “red boxes.” These are red briefcases that contain papers that the Queen must either look at, sign or answer. Every law passed by the British Parliament must be signed by the Queen in what is called “Royal Assent.” She also reviews many of the letters sent to her before forwarding them to her staff.
Other official duties include the more than 450 engagements she carries out each year, some in her role as the patron or president of 600 charities. She also travels abroad several times a year.
Given this schedule, one can understand why Bennett wrote in “The Uncommon Reader”:
“To someone with the background of the Queen, pleasure had always taken second place to duty. If she could feel she had a duty to read, then she could set about it with a clear conscience. But why did it take possession of her now?”
Less than a page later, she puts her doubts aside and embraces reading with no qualms.
Is reading a guilty pleasure for you? Or do you embrace it as time well spent?